Ashley Opheim. Photo by Ariana Molly
Since 2013, Metatron has printed 23 English-language poetry and fiction titles for a digitally aware audience. Editor and founder Ashley Opheim is not afraid to take chances on capital “a” Art — in fact she embraces it by creating an avenue that legitimizes young authors by publishing their work in good-looking, pocket-sized books. Books that you kind of want to be seen reading on the bus.
Beyond being a mere product-based, book-selling business, Metatron is confident in and proud of their community-based brand and content. Their events and readings are one thing, but it’s the audacity of starting an annual literary award (the Metatron Prize) right out of the blocks that deserves the most respect. Submissions for that prize have exploded in recent years, and will open again in early 2017.
A poet herself, Saskatchewan-born Opheim is a big-picture person. She runs Metatron out of her Mile End loft with a small team: editor Jay Ritchie, publicist Sufia Duez and a couple interns. I spoke with Opheim ahead of this month’s fall catalogue launch, when they will release Adam Zachary’s The End, by Anna (a meditation on performance art), digital-wave poet Alex Manley’s We Are All Just Animals & Plants and Laura Theobald’s poems exploring the mistakes we make for love in What My Hair Says About You.
Natalia Yanchak: When did you decide to start a publishing house?
Ashley Opheim: I found myself in the hell-hole of post-education job searches. I wanted to intern at a literary press, but there weren’t many options. I didn’t feel like there were any presses that were devoted to publishing the kind of work me and my peers were interested in writing and reading.
So here I was, unemployed and having a hell of a time interfacing my English-writing and editing skills with the employment market in Montreal, but also part of this amazing writing scene that wasn’t only happening in Montreal, but also on the Internet. I felt like we were on the brink of a movement. I was inspired by the energy and excitement surrounding the Montreal music scene and was curious why there wasn’t some sort of equivalent literary scene that had the same energy.
So Metatron was my manifestation experiment, and I think it’s working pretty well so far. I feel like instead of letting my frustrations get the best of me, I was able to transform that negativity into a very powerful force. That’s pretty fucking magical, in my mind.
NY: How important is artifact to Metatron, in a digital world?
AO: For me, our events and the physical books are the most [meaningful] things that we do at Metatron. The digital world artificially binds us to one another. It’s a place of illusion and deception. It’s only through real-world experiences and tangible objects that we’re reminded of our humanity, which is the realest part of ourselves and the only way to practise and learn lessons of empathy, care and respect. Don’t get me wrong, Metatron fucking loves the Internet — I don’t think we would have continued to exist without it — but when the Internet gets taken down by aliens, at least we’ll still have books.
NY: How do you decide who to publish? How do you balance voice vs. message?
AO: For me, it’s always about the work. It’s about someone’s ability to move me emotionally. It’s about writing that has the ability to surprise and enlighten us to a new way of looking at the world and expose aspects of our very nuanced and complicated individuality.
NY: What has been your greatest challenge — as a poet, publisher or business-owner?
AO: There is always the question of value vs. money. There is this gross divide between what is valuable and what is profitable. And what is profitable is usually more visible and gets more power in our culture than what is actually valuable. I’m talking about big-name books or popular music or brands that offer us no real insight into the conditions of existing. This isn’t a healthy thing for our society. We should be liberated and inspired by the work that we do and the meaning and value it’s bringing to our communities. ■
The Metatron fall catalogue launch party takes place at la Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent) on Thursday, Nov. 10, 7:30–11 p.m., PWYC, suggested donation $5